In Translation

A language is more than just words. I can speak a few words in a few languages, but not enough to get by. Sometimes, it seems we share a language and still miss something in communication. Other days, I’m not sure I’m even fluent in my native language…

A friend of mine (from Sweden) said she was reading something British and she didn’t quite get it until she remembered it was British. After that, it was funny. She reminded me it wasn’t enough to read the words, but stories also can require a switch in mindset. Since my friend has lived in both Britain and America, it explains how she might identify it differently.

She also recommends translations of a few books from Swedish authors. Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell are the ones I’ve read so far, and both of them write intricately-plotted crime fiction. Many of the comments I’ve heard about it before and after I read it is that it takes 50-100 pages to get into the story, to be truly hooked. I felt that was accurate, though the second and third books by Larsson did not have the trouble because they followed after the setup of the first.

I know a couple people who don’t want to wait that long. I’ve heard of editors and agents who want to know by the first five pages, by the first paragraph.

What I really wonder is what that says about us, that we aren’t willing to give it a few pages. Does it say something if you read the last page first, if you skim through the book and then read it over in detail, or if you carefully devour everything on the page. Or is it something more about how short life is, that we want to jump into something that immediately takes us away.

Then it leads me to wonder if our work, translated, meets the same resistance when it travels over to someone else. If they need to switch to a part of the brain where they understand it, or if the translator doesn’t manage to change the ideas from what we intended to something that makes sense in that culture.

When I look at my work again, I start wondering about creating new languages. Y’know, because I’m always thinking about space adventures and aliens and I swear one day I’m going to finish that world I’ve created and the story that’s just beyond me at the moment. Those translations remind me that it isn’t just about figuring out the character’s mind, but also in making sure the reader sees it as well as I do.

Another Style Guide

According to Mashable, Yahoo now has its own style guide. It differs from the AP style guide, one cited example is email where the official AP still says e-mail.

It’s not just going to be a style guide, though. There will also be tips for writing on the web and how to get traffic to see your site.

So how many style guides do we need? It’s difficult to keep up with the English language as it is, so let’s throw more options into the mix. Does it make you wonder what it takes to set yourself up as an expert? Do you need anything official to create an official guide? Who decides where the language is going, if not the people who use it?

And if it’s the people who use it, aren’t we in deep, deep trouble?

English can’t be an easy language if so many of the native speakers can’t get the written word right. (The spoken words have issues, too, but perhaps not as many due to the informality of most speech.) Is it because English keeps evolving? Because it keeps borrowing words from every other language and making up more as needed? Is the versatility that makes English good for finding a proper word also bad for learning it?

Will there be an answer if the masses believe that if someone can make out a meaning, it’s good enough? When I’m writing, I like second opinions to make certain my intent is coming through. Often it doesn’t come through exactly like I envisioned it. So I dig through the issues until I fix it.

Not that it isn’t a great opportunity for humor where there’s more than one meaning, but a writer isn’t able to turn to the reader with that condemning look and say, “You know what I mean.”

That’s one reason for a style guide – to give a set way to put things on paper. To know where to punctuate and why, along with a ton of other stuff non-writers probably don’t give much thought to.

Which is why we can bandy their words about when they put them out there. Oh, such great games to play. Almost makes me want to go start a pun war.

Learning Languages

Just because a character is learning a language doesn’t mean you need to dump a bunch of information at the reader. By ‘information’ I mean the endless words that are not native to the language the story is in.

I think this is especially true for fantasy authors who may create their own.

Some authors are masters of creating languages, like J.R.R. Tolkien. We’re not all linguistic gurus, though, and we shouldn’t subject our readers to random strings of letters.

Not everyone loves Star Trek enough to learn Klingon, Vulcan, or any number of other created languages associated with it, and similarly most readers will not be pretending to be one of your creatures.

If you’re curious about creating a language, though, go here.

Don’t forget that characters might speak in programming languages or some other math-based jargon. That’s part of the beauty of creating a different world.

Just remember there’s no need to show off all the research you did. The story will be stronger most of the time without it.

Growing a Reader From Birth

It was difficult to process the information in this book, simply because there was a lot of it.

Diane McGuiness explains a lot in this book about children 0-5 years and makes her cases with scientific studies. It makes sense that when infants like something, they use their sucking reflex to share that.

Most of the book was dedicated to speaking to babies, what they understand, and how they learn to speak. The author explains each stage and what the parent is likely to see, not just based on age, but also on ability. For example, there’s a language explosion around 18 months, but it is less about the age of the child and more when he hits 50 words in his spoken vocabulary.

Toward the end of the book the Author first mentions the child reading. She asserts children may be distracted by pictures in  books and not understand the essence of the story. Also, she talks about the importance of telling stories to the child along with having him tell stories to the parent.

The last chapter dealt with a whole world, whole language and phonics dissertation. I’ve never been a fan of whole world teachings, and she gave concrete reasons why it doesn’t work to learn to read: basically, the mind can only memorize so many words if they are treated as random strings of letters. She used history to show that the languages that have a ‘whole word’ concept maxed out around 2000 words, compared to the approximately 50,000 words needed to carry on an adult conversation.

Every language that survived has used a method of breaking down the words into a “Basic Code” to decipher written material. English has 40 sounds, and only 26 letters – which she says could have been used more effectively. I don’t know anyone who could argue that.

I think the most out-there argument was at the very end, talking about how dyslexia is not a real disability. The author stated her reasons for believing this, but I do not know enough about dyslexia to know.

Don’t jump all over me – but here is her argument:
She states dyslexia does not exist except in English-speaking countries who have used whole word or whole language strategies to teach reading. It must not be a brain disability if it doesn’t exist in nearly the same percentages around the world. Therefore, dyslexia is a created problem that can be fixed, in her argument, with phonics.

It definitely gives something to think about. My one-year-old makes me understand her, and I know she gets more of what I say than she can say back to me. How much? That is always the question.